In March 2019, the decision by former Denver radio host, longtime journalist and onetime Westword contributor David Sirota to accept an invitation from Bernie Sanders to become a speech researcher and communications expert for the Vermont senator's 2020 presidential campaign may have struck some as quizzical. Now that Sanders is the undeniable frontrunner for the Democratic nomination and the Colorado primary poll leader days ahead of the March 3 Super Tuesday vote, Sirota's move looks prescient in the extreme.
Not that the gig has been a snap. As Sanders's star has risen, so has criticism from rivals, including Pete Buttigieg, who portrays the nation's most prominent Democratic Socialist as too progressive for the electorate as a whole and suggest that naming him the Dems' standard bearer could lead directly to the re-election of President Donald Trump.
Even MSNBC, a liberal-leaning network on which Sanders once appeared so frequently that he should have been designated a full-time employee, has made similar noises, putting Sirota in the position of using his hefty (186,000 followers) Twitter account to argue against what he sees as a glaringly false narrative.
This evening, February 27, Sirota is stepping forward as the featured guest at a Sanders phone-banking event in Denver (details below). But he still found time to answer our questions about his ongoing efforts, and his replies offer a rare, inside look at the Sanders movement as it continues to gather speed.
Westword: How would you describe your role in the campaign?
David Sirota: I am a senior adviser who does research that supports the senator’s speeches, our campaign’s rapid response and our overall message strategy.
Has your role changed and expanded from what you originally envisioned, and if so, how?
I started out primarily working on speeches, but, yes, it has expanded to include a more public-facing role pushing our message out to the media and to the grassroots.
You've been very visible tweeting on behalf of the campaign. About how many tweets are you sending out on a daily basis, and what has been your approach to messaging using this medium?
I don’t keep a tally.
What other platforms do you use on a regular basis, and how would you describe your approach to them?
We have a regular email newsletter called "Bern Notice" that I write. You can find it at bernie.substack.com.
Along the way, events seem to have put you in the position of becoming something of a media commentator in regard to coverage about Senator Sanders from various news outlets. Has this surprised you, or were you expecting that this would be part of your duties?
Senator Sanders is a strong defender of the free press — and he is the only presidential candidate who has released a comprehensive plan to protect journalists and support independent media. He also has at times criticized corporate media outlets for not adequately covering the major crises facing the American people. Those criticisms are not new; he has voiced them for years.
Last week, a Washington Post story by Jennifer Rubin accused you of fanning a false allegation that Joe Biden wanted to cut Social Security, and you reacted strongly to it. How would you characterize this accusation?
Bernie Sanders has steadfastly worked to protect and expand Social Security. By contrast, Joe Biden has in the past pushed to freeze Social Security funding, raise the Social Security retirement age and reduce Social Security benefits. These facts are not in question — they are verifiable facts, and anyone pretending otherwise is displaying a reckless disrespect for facts.
Does it frustrate you when folks like Rubin try to make you a part of the story as opposed to focusing on Senator Sanders?
Being attacked is an occupational hazard in this job. It is not surprising that those who are unable to effectively criticize Senator Sanders's agenda are stooping to ugly and toxic personal attacks on me and so many others on our campaign staff.
More recently, Chris Matthews of MSNBC compared the Sanders campaign to a Nazi invasion. Could you share your thoughts about that and the kind of panic a potential Sanders nomination seems to have inspired among some members of the media, including those who are typically seen as being left of center?
The establishment has gotten used to a status quo where billionaires and the corporate class are enriched and everyone else struggles to get by. The national media often reflects the ideology of billionaires and the corporate class. And so you see that media now freaking out at the prospect that Senator Sanders's campaign has a very real chance to make change — change that will create a government that works for working people, not just billionaires and corporate elites.
Is it your belief that such commentary should be called out as opposed to being ignored or shrugged off, and if so, why?
Democracy is premised on freedom of speech and the civil exchange of ideas. In a healthy democracy, when politicians, pundits or other people with large political platforms push out dishonest or inaccurate propaganda, others will respond in a civil way with facts. A civil, respectful dialogue and discussion is a good thing.
At the same time, has your role in the campaign also had rewarding moments, and if so, how would you describe them?
It has been a great honor to get to work in a job supporting a candidate who I’ve known for more than twenty years and who I know is honest and principled in the fight for economic, social, racial and environmental justice. The most rewarding part of that experience is knowing that the work I do supports a grassroots, multi-racial, multi-generational movement that is our best hope to address the health-care crisis, climate crisis and other emergencies that threaten our future.
Tonight's phone-bank get-together is scheduled to take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Bernie 2020 Colorado campaign headquarters, 1331 East Colfax Avenue, and David Sirota will be on hand. Participants are asked to bring a cell phone, as well as a laptop or tablet to make calls on what's known as the "Bernie Dialer." (Safari and Apple iOS tablets are not compatible with the Dialer at this time.) They should also download Chrome or Firefox and bring headphones or a headset. Click for more information about the Bernie Sanders phone-banking event.